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Another failing gTLD not paying its “onerous” dues

Kevin Murphy, January 15, 2019, Domain Registries

ICANN has sent out its first public contract breach notice of the year, and it’s going to another new gTLD registry that’s allegedly not paying its fees.

The dishonor goes to Who’s Who Registry, manager of the spectacularly failing gTLD .whoswho.

According to ICANN, the registry hasn’t paid its registry fees for several months and hasn’t been responding to private compliance outreach.

The company has a month to pay up or risk suspension or termination.

CEO John McCabe actually wrote to ICANN (pdf) the day after one of its requests for payment in November, complaining that its fees were too “onerous” and should be reduced for registries that are “good actors” with no abuse.

ICANN’s annual $25,000 fee is “the single largest item in .whoswho’s budget”, McCabe wrote, “the weight of which suppresses development of the gTLD”.

Whether ICANN fees are to blame is debatable, but all the data shows that .whoswho, which has been in general availability for almost four years, has failed hard.

It had 100 domains under management at the last count, once you ignore all the domains owned by the registry itself. This probably explains the lack of abuse.

Well over half of these names were registered through brand-protection registrars. ICANN statistics show 44 names were registered during its sunrise period.

A Google search suggests that only four people are currently using .whoswho for its intended purpose and one of those is McCabe himself.

The original intent of .whoswho was to mimic the once-popular Who’s Who? books, which contain brief biographies of notable public figures.

The gTLD was originally restricted to registrants who had actually appeared in one of these books, but the registry scrapped that rule and slashed prices from $70 to $20 a year in 2016 after poor uptake.

I’d venture the opinion that, in a world of LinkedIn and Wikipedia, Who’s Who? is an idea that might have had its day.

.CLUB announces three years of price increases

Kevin Murphy, January 15, 2019, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains is to increase its wholesale registry fees by $1.90 over the next three years.

The company announced that the increases for .club names will come on July 1 this year, next year, and in 2021.

The current price is $8.05 per domain per year. This will go up to $8.95, then $9.45, then $9.95.

They’re the first price changes .CLUB has implemented, other than discounts, since its launch in 2014.

The gTLD had almost 1.5 million names under management at the last public count, and has about 1.16 million names in its zone file today.

It saw a growth surge in the second half of 2018 due to aggressive discounting in China — with AliBaba selling new names for as little as $0.44 — which led to a corresponding increase in abuse.

.CLUB is a rare example of a private TLD operator that is fairly open about its financials.

Chile opens .cl to all ICANN registrars

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2019, Domain Registries

The Chilean ccTLD registry has opened its doors to all ICANN-accredited registrars, no matter where they are based.

NIC Chile, part of the University of Chile, this week announced its Registrar Agents Program, an effort to grow the TLD internationally.

Becoming .cl-accredited appears to be a relatively simple process, requiring a brief application, technical tests (it’s an EPP registry) and contract-signing.

A pilot program that kicked off in September 2016 has already attracted 11 ICANN-accredited registrars, mostly but not exclusively those in the corporate brand-protection space.

Chilean companies that want to act as registrars must go through a separate process and do not need ICANN accreditation.

There are no local presence requirements to register a .cl domain.

Today, the TLD has just shy of 575,000 registered domains, having broke through the half-million mark about three years ago.

It may be interesting to see if growth rates increase with a larger pool of registrars, but .cl is already quite broadly available at major retail registrars (presumably via gateway or reseller arrangements) so getting hold of one doesn’t appear to be problematic.

.eu domains to be sold to non-residents

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2018, Domain Registries

In a few years, you’ll no longer have to live in the European Union in order to buy a .eu domain name.

Residency requirements are to be dropped under new regulations approved by the European Parliament, Council and European Commission last week.

When the new rules come into effect — not expected until April 2023 — EU citizens based anywhere in the world will be able register .eu domains.

It’s not entirely clear how EURid, the current registry, will determine eligibility at point of sale, but I guess they have plenty of time to think about it.

Notably, the proposed new Regulation will shift oversight of .eu from one based on EU regulations to one based on a contract between the Commission and the registry operator.

It is hoped that this will give EURid the flexibility to more rapidly change its business model in future, merely having to agree upon a contract change rather than waiting for the EU institutions to chug through their lengthy legislative processes.

DNS inventor says .luxe first innovation in a decade

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2018, Domain Registries

DNS inventor Paul Mockapetris has endorsed MMX’s foray into the blockchain as “the first genuine piece of DNS related innovation that I have seen in the last decade”.

The quote came in an MMX press release this morning, which provided an update on the launch of .luxe as the first gTLD that publishes information to the Ethereum blockchain as well as the DNS.

As I attempted to describe a few months ago, .luxe is being sold as an alternative way to address blockchain assets such as cryptocurrency wallets, which currently use nonsense, immemorable 40-character hashes.

MMX has built an API that allows registrars to automatically associate .luxe domains with Ethereum addresses.

The registry said today it now has 11 registrars signed up to use this API, along with 60 more selling vanilla .luxe domains.

In addition to its launch distribution partner, the wallet provider imToken, MMX said it has also signed up Bitxbank, BeeNews, BEPAL, Hillstone Partners, Math Wallet, MTC Mesh Network, Qufen, Fbee, and ChainDD, which all appear to be Asian blockchain software companies.

It expects to announce support for two non-Ethereum blockchains in the first half of next year.

Judging by zone files, .luxe names have not exactly been flying off the shelves since launch.

It had around 2,600 names in its zone file yesterday, having entered general availability about a month ago.

Despite this, CEO Toby Hall said in this morning’s press release that MMX’s initial investment in .luxe (I assume he’s referring to the R&D investment rather than the cost of applying for the gTLD) has already been recouped.

New gTLDs continue growth trend, but can it last?

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2018, Domain Registries

New gTLDs continued to bounce back following a year-long slump in registration volumes, according to Verisign data.

The company’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief, covering the third quarter, shows new gTLDs growing from 21.8 million names to 23.4 million names, a 1.6 million name increase.

New gTLDs also saw a 1.6 million-name sequential increase in the second quarter, which reversed five quarters of declines.

The sector has yet to surpass its peak of 25.6 million, which it reached in the fourth quarter of 2016.

It think it will take some time to get there, and that we’ll may well see a decline in next couple quarters.

The mid-point of the third quarter marked the end of deep discounting across the former Famous Four Media (now GRS Domains) portfolio (.men, .science, .loan, etc), but the expected downward pressure on volumes wasn’t greatly felt by the end of the period.

With GRS’s portfolio generally on the decline so far in Q4, we might expect it to have a tempering effect on gains elsewhere when the next DNIB is published.

Verisign’s data showed also that ccTLDs shrunk for the first time in a couple years, down by half a million names to 149.3 million. Both .uk and .de suffered six-figure losses.

Its own .net was flat at 14.1 million, showing no signs of recovery after several quarters of shrinkage, while .com increased by two million names to finish September with 137.6 under management.

No .web until 2021 after Afilias files ICANN appeal

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2018, Domain Registries

Afilias has taken ICANN to arbitration to prevent .web being delegated to Verisign.

The company, which came second in the $135 million auction that Verisign won in 2016, filed Independent Review Process documents in late November.

The upshot of the filing is that .web, considered by many the best potential competitor for .com — Afilias describes it as “crown jewels of the New gTLD Program” — is very probably not going to hit the market for at least a couple more years.

Afilias says in in its filing that:

ICANN is enabling VeriSign to acquire the .WEB gTLD, the next closest competitor to VeriSign’s monopoly, and in so doing has eviscerated one of the central pillars of the New gTLD Program: to introduce and promote competition in the Internet namespace in order to break VeriSign’s monopoly

Its beef is that Verisign acquired the rights to .web by hiding behind a third-party proxy, Nu Dot Co, the shell corporation linked to the co-founders of .CO Internet that appears to have been set up in 2012 purely to make money by losing new gTLD auctions.

Afilias says NDC broke the rules of the new gTLD program by failing to notify ICANN that it had made an agreement with Verisign to sign over its rights to .web in advance of the auction.

The company says that NDC’s “obligation to immediately assign .WEB to VeriSign fundamentally changed the nature of NDC’s application” and that ICANN and the other .web applicants should have been told.

NDC’s application had stated that .web was going to compete with .com, and Verisign’s acquisition of the contract would make that claim false, Afilias says.

This means ICANN broke its bylaws commitment to apply its policies, “neutrally, objectively, and fairly”, Afilias claims.

Allowing Verisign to acquire its most significant potential competitor also breaks ICANN’s commitment to introduce competition to the gTLD market, the company reckons.

It will be up to a three-person panel of retired judges to decide whether these claims holds water.

The IRP filing was not unexpected. I noted that it seemed likely after a court threw out a Donuts lawsuit against ICANN which attempted to overturn the auction result for pretty much the same reasons.

The judge in that case ruled that new gTLD applicants’ covenant not to sue ICANN was valid, largely because alternatives such as IRP are available.

ICANN has a recent track record of performing poorly under IRP scrutiny, but this case is by no means a slam-dunk for Afilias.

ICANN could argue that the .web case was not unique, for starters.

The .blog contention set was won by an affiliate of WordPress maker Automattic under almost identical circumstances earlier in 2016, with Colombian-linked applicant Primer Nivel paying $19 million at private auction, secretly bankrolled by WordPress.

Nobody complained about that outcome, probably because it was a private auction so all the other .blog applicants got an even split of the winning bid.

Afilias wants the .web IRP panel to declare NDC’s bid invalid and award .web to Afilias at its final bid price.

For those champing at the bit to register .web domains, and there are some, the filing means they’ve likely got another couple years to wait.

I’ve never known an IRP to take under a year to complete, from filing to final declaration. We’re likely looking at something closer to 18 months.

Even after the declaration, we’d be looking at more months for ICANN’s board to figure out how to implement the decision, and more months still for the implementation itself.

Barring further appeals, I’d say it’s very unlikely .web will start being sold until 2021 at the very earliest, assuming the winning registry is actually motivated to bring it to market as quickly as possible.

The IRP is no skin off Verisign’s nose, of course. Its acquisition of .web was, in my opinion, more about restricting competition than expanding its revenue streams, so a delay simply plays into its hands.

Nevett lands at PIR

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2018, Domain Registries

Donuts alumnus Jon Nevett has been named the new CEO of Public Interest Registry.

Non-profit PIR, which runs .org and related gTLDs, said he will start in the role December 17.

Nevett was most recently executive VP at Donuts, the new gTLD registry he co-founded.

He left Donuts in October, not long after he cashed out when the company was sold to private equity firm Abry Partners.

The PIR corner office had been empty since May, after the unexpected and still unexplained resignation of Brian Cute.

Jay Daley, a member of the board of directors, was filling the role on an interim basis, but told us definitively in September that he was not interested in taking over permanently.

Exclusive: Tiny island sues to take control of lucrative .nu

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2018, Domain Registries

The tiny Pacific island of Niue has sued the Swedish ccTLD registry to gain control of its own ccTLD, .nu, DI has learned.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Stockholm, claims that the Internet Foundation In Sweden (IIS) acted illegally when it essentially took control of .nu in 2013, paying its American owner millions of dollars a year for the privilege.

Niue wants the whole ccTLD registry transferred to its control at IIS’s expense, along with all the profits IIS has made from .nu since 2013 — many millions of dollars.

It also plans to file a lawsuit in Niue, and to formally request a redelegation from IANA.

While .nu is the code assigned to Niue, it has always been marketed in northern Europe, particularly Sweden, in countries where the string means “now”.

It currently has just shy of 400,000 domains under management, according to IIS’s web site, having seen a 50,000-name slump just a couple weeks ago.

It was expected to be worth a additional roughly $5 million a year for the registry’s top line, according to IIS documents dated 2012, a time when it only had about 240,000 domains.

For comparison, Niue’s entire GDP has been estimated at a mere $10 million, according to the CIA World Factbook. The island has about 1,800 inhabitants and relies heavily on tourism and handouts from New Zealand.

According to documents detailing its 2013 takeover, IIS agreed to pay a minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the right to run the ccTLD, with a potential few million more in performance-related bonuses.

The Niue end of the lawsuit is being handled by Par Brumark, a Swedish national living in Denmark, who has been appointed by the Niuean government to act on its behalf on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, where he is currently a vice-chair.

Brumark told DI that IIS acted illegally when it took over .nu from previous registry, Massachusetts-based WorldNames, which had been running the ccTLD without the consent of Niue’s government since 1997.

The deal was characterized by WorldNames in 2013 as a back-end deal, with IIS taking over administrative and technical operations.

But IIS documents from 2012 reveal that it is actually more like a licensing deal, with IIS paying WorldNames the aforementioned minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the rights to manage, and profit from, the TLD.

The crux of the lawsuit appears to be the question of whether .nu can be considered a “Swedish national domain”.

IIS is a “foundation”, which under Swedish law has to stick to the purpose outlined in its founding charter.

That charter says, per IIS’s own translation, that the IIS “must particularly promote the development of the handling of domain names under the top-level domain .se and other national domains pertaining to Sweden.”

Brumark believes that .nu is not a national domain pertaining to Sweden, because it’s Niue’s national ccTLD.

One of his strongest pieces of evidence is that the Swedish telecoms regulator, PTS, refuses to regulate .nu because it’s not Swedish. PTS is expected to be called as a witness.

But documents show that the Stockholm County Administrative Board, which regulates Foundations, gave permission in 2012 for IIS to run “additional top-level domains”.

Via Google Translate, the Board said: “The County Administrative Board finds that the Foundation’s proposed management measures to administer, managing and running additional top-level domains is acceptable.”

Brumark thinks this opinion was only supposed to apply to geographic gTLDs such as .stockholm, and not to ccTLD strings assigned by ISO to other nations.

The Stockholm Board did not mention .nu or make a distinction between ccTLD and gTLDs in its letter to IIS, but the letter was in response to a statement from an IIS lawyer that .nu, with 70% of its registrations in Sweden, could be considered a Swedish national domain under the IIS charter.

Brumark points to public statements made by IIS CEO Danny Aerts to the effect that IIS is limited to Swedish national domains. Here, for example, he says that IIS could not run .wales.

IIS did not respond to my requests for comment by close of business in Sweden today.

Niue claims that if .nu isn’t Swedish, IIS has no rights under its founding charter to run it, and that it should be transferred to a Niuean entity, the Niue Information Technology Committee.

That’s a governmental entity created by an act of the local parliament 18 years ago, when Niue first started its campaign to get control of .nu.

The history of .nu is a controversial one, previously characterized as “colonialism” by some.

The ccTLD was claimed by Boston-based WorldNames founder Bill Semich and an American resident of the island, in 1997. That’s pre-ICANN, when the IANA database was still being managed by Jon Postel.

At the time, governments had basically no say in how their ccTLDs were delegated. It’s not even clear if Niue was aware its TLD had gone live at the time.

The official sponsor of .nu, according to the IANA record, is the IUSN Foundation, which is controlled by WorldNames.

Under ICANN/IANA policy, the consent of the incumbent sponsor is required in order for a redelegation to occur, and WorldNames has been understandably reluctant to give up its cash cow, despite Niue trying to take control for the better part of two decades.

The 2000 act of parliament declared that NITC was the only true sponsor for .nu, but even Niuean law has so far not proved persuasive.

So the lawsuit against IIS is huge twist in the tale.

If Niue were to win, IIS would presumably be obliged to hand over all of its registry and customer data to Niue’s choice of back-end provider.

Both Afilias and Danish registrar One.com have previously expressed an interest in running .nu, providing a share of the revenue to Niue, according to court documents.

Brumark said that a settlement might also be possible, but that it would be very costly to IIS.

Readers might also be interested in my 2011 article about Niue, which was once widely referred to as the “WiFi Nation”.

Belgium to crack down on fraud domains

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2018, Domain Registries

DNS Belgium says it will shortly implement a new policy that will see it take down .be domains associated with fraud within 24 hours of discovering them.

The new scheme, which comes into effect December 1, essentially grants the Belgian government’s ministry of the economy — FPS Economy or Federal Public Service Economy in local parlance — a trusted notifier status when it comes to takedowns.

Previously, requests had to go through public prosecutors and took about two weeks, giving attackers a longer window to milk their victims.

Under the old regime, FPS Economy could only request a suspension in cases where the Whois data was inaccurate.

The registry said it will only suspend domains that are involved in “serious crimes”, including phishing and fraudulent web stores.

Registrants will have two weeks to appeal their suspensions. After six months, the domains will be deleted.

Several hundred .be domains per year are expected to be affected.